This article presents the geochemical characteristics and physicochemical properties of water and sediment from twelve semi-permanent, dryland pools in the upper Leichhardt River catchment, north-west Queensland, Australia. The pools were examined to better understand the quality of sediments and temporary waters in a dryland system with a well-established metal contamination problem. Water and sediment sampling was conducted at the beginning of the hydroperiod in May and September 2007. Water samples were analyzed for major solute compositions (Ca, Na, K, Mg, Cl, SO 4, HCO 3) and water-soluble (operationally defined as the <0.45 μm fraction) metals (Cd, Cu, Pb, Zn). Sediment samples were analyzed for total extractable and bioaccessible metals (As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Zn), elemental composition and grain morphology. At the time of sampling a number of pools contained water and sediment with elevated concentrations, compared to Australian regulatory guidelines, of Cu (maximum: water 28 μg L -1; sediment 770 mg kg -1), Pb (maximum: water 3.4 μg L -1; sediment 630 mg kg -1) and Zn (maximum: water 150 μg L -1; sediment 780 mg kg -1). Concentrations of Cd and As in pools were relatively low and generally within Australian regulatory guideline values. Localized factors, such as the interaction of waters with anthropogenic contaminants from modern and historic mine wastes (i.e. residual smelter and slag materials), exert influence on the quality of pool waters. Although the pools of the upper Leichhardt River catchment are contaminated, they do not appear to be the primary repository of water and sediment associated metals when compared to materials in the remainder channel and floodplain. Nevertheless, a precautionary approach should be adopted to mitigating human exposure to contaminated environments, which might include the installation of appropriate warning signs by local health and environmental authorities.